"Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions." A large part of this literacy is dependent upon successful communication between physicians and patients. When a physician uses medical terms that are not understood by the patient, it's not always the case that the patient will point that out. Instead, physicians may continue on with the false assumption that all the information they provided was obtained successfully.
What can physicians do to make sure patients have the knowledge they need to make good health decisions? First of all, cut down on the medical jargon. Utilizing technical terms in medical school may be appropriate, but patients often do not have that same level of education. They have not been to medical school, so they require a more straightforward explanation of their health issues and the decisions they must make. It's important that physicians also learn to ask patients if they have any questions about what they've just learned. Patients may keep silent for fear of looking less than intelligent, but opening up for questions might spur them into seeking the clarification they need.
From a patient's perspective, they can utilize different ways of approaching a physician for the clarification they need. One suggestion is the Ask Me 3 program, which is meant to promote understanding between patients and physicians. Patients should ask and receive answers, in plain terminology, to these three questions:
- What is my main problem?
- What do I need to do?
- Why is it important for me to do this?
By utilizing the answers from these questions, patients can get a better understanding of their current health and the issues they are facing. Also, repeat back the information given because then physicians can clear up any misunderstandings rather than there being a remaining communication gap. Medicine is a team effort, so make sure all participants are on the same page.